by Amber Bretzman
Taking my son to school, “Mom you have mud on your face!” Standing in line at the grocery store, “Ma’am, I think you have some mud on your face.” Delivering eggs to my neighbors (she pays me in pickles,) “Sweetie, I believe you have mud on your face.” Washing my hands to prepare lunch, I look in the mirror. Ugh, is that mud on my nose? I rub my nose before drying my hands. Nope that’s a freckle, but there above my brow is mud.
At this juncture there may be a question as to whether or not I ever wash my face. I do, however, I am a pig farmer in the Pacific Northwest. Mud is my daily life. If I’m not finding a way to prevent mud I’m working to create it. Seems a bit contradictory, I know. I pasture raise our pigs. This means that they do not live on concrete floors or in a barn under artificial light, breathing recycled air circulated through an industrial sized fan. Our pigs live in modest, yet cozy huts with open floor designs that allow them to be pigs. Pig love to root dirt from one corner of their house to the other until they have achieved ultimate comfort levels.
There are a number of reasons why we have chosen to go this route; ease of design, economics, aesthetics, etc. The number one reason is for the overall health and happiness of our pigs. The dirt provides pigs not only with a more natural living environment, but also essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. The benefits of pigs living in the dirt doesn’t stop there. Dirt also acts as a natural barrier for external parasites such as lice and mites, as well as protects their sensitive skin from the sun by serving as a sun screen. Yes, pigs get sunburns which can not only be painful but debilitating and even deadly.
That covers a general view on how dirt keeps pigs healthy but dirt also makes them happy. Pigs with access to dirt will spend their days rooting and dredging things out of the soil. They are entertained for hours pushing their snouts along the ground feeling, sniffing, and tasting things along the way. Pigs relax on hot summer days in cool mud wallows, having fun lathering themselves up by jumping in and rolling from side to side until completing their bogbeast transformation.
Pigs raised in a healthy environment, in the dirt, living a stress free life also finish out as a superior pork compared to factory raised animals. The difference in pasture raised pork is easily seen in its vibrant coloration of rich red muscle marbled with a bright white fat. The meat is flavorful, robust, and succulent leaving the pallet begging for another taste without the need for a special recipe packed full of salts and spices designed to add flavor where there was none before.